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Gay Talese: The Truthdig Interview
Posted on May 2, 2006
By Blair Golson
How do you feel about being called one of the fathers of New Journalism?
I have some reluctance with being identified with New Journalism because it suggests a little sloppiness with the facts. And I?m very much concerned with not being sloppy. I?m very careful.
Did that make the James Frey scandal all the more bitter a pill to swallow at home?
I can?t talk comfortably about it, because my wife?s the publisher. But my wife published that book earnestly, believing that the writer who was the reformed drug addict was telling the truth.
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[Nan] felt that she was ambushed, which I think she was, but of course she had to stand by her author. She did acknowledge that she was betrayed, but she didn?t want to sound like some inquisitor over there, chopping the head off one of her authors, who was brought in by one of her younger editors.
The New York Times said that book publishers should have more people doing fact-checking. The New York Times has a lot of fact-checkers; they?re loaded with editors, and Jayson Blair wrote 30 articles for them before they caught up with them. So it?s not only the book publishing industry that needs more fact-checkers.
Do you feel that the kind of literary journalism you helped to pioneer paved the way for writers taking more liberties with nonfiction stories?
[animated] That?s lying. That?s not literary journalism. That?s making it up, that?s faking.
But doesn?t positing what people are thinking?as you often do?start us down the slippery slope of taking even more liberties with reality?
When I have people thinking [in my books], it?s because I?ve talked to them and could quote them, but rather than quote them?sometimes people don?t speak in perfect sentences?I take it and put in my own words what it is they purport to think. I have done that for 45 years and no one ever challenged me on factual reporting or internal monologues.
Gaining such access to someone?s innermost thoughts is apparently a slow process.
It?s just being careful. It takes me a long time to write a book. My last book was 13 years, the book before that was 12 years, and the book before that was 11 years. The reason I take all this time is that I?m taking more chances and doing more ambitious work.
I?ve been criticized for taking too much time. You?d think people should be criticized for not taking enough time and doing a sloppy job. I take a lot of time, but I?m always working. It?s not like I?m lying around playing golf, or going to the horse races. I took 13 years because I believe that book was worth 13 years of my best effort. And I did it, and I?m proud of it.
Since you published ?Thy Neighbor?s Wife,? do you think that America has become more conservative or more liberal in terms of our sexual mores?
It?s a hard question, because in a way America has become more conservative because of political correctness, which?I think, but can?t prove?started on college campuses. There?s a certain rigidity and a certain expectation that controls behavior, or what one can say?how one can be easily accused of being racist or sexist, or anti-Semitic, or anti-social.
Sexual harassment was not even defined [when I wrote ?Thy Neighbor?s Wife?]. And it?s not even defined now. Like right now at Duke, where you have this lacrosse story. A woman says she was abused. But she also called it rape. It?s hard to know what exactly occurred, because the word ?abuse? or ?harassment? is so often used that you don?t get a precise, exact and verifiable definition of what it is that occurred that might bring about the charges of what happened?disputed or otherwise.
Otherwise, so many other things are taken for granted now which were not taken for granted when I started what would become ?Thy Neighbor?s Wife.? The idea of homosexual acceptance, to the point of having two people of the same sex declare themselves engaged or married and get their picture in the social page of the New York Times.
What?s the most interesting sexuality-related issue you?d like to explore today?
The children of gay couples. Don?t deal with the gay couple; that?s already been told. But I?d follow the children of gay couples for 10 or 15 years and see how they develop and change as they grow older.
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